Holiday Foreclosure Freeze

Like last year, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two government-controlled mortgage giants, are freezing all foreclosure evictions on mortgage loans they own or back from Dec. 20 through Jan.3.  For some of the big private banks, who also usually observe a freeze during the holidays, the situation is a little different this year, thanks to moratoriums they already have in place because of the robo-signing scandal.  That freeze was initiated to give the banks time to examine whether they violated any legal procedures in processing foreclosures and to correct and re-file questionable documents they uncover.  A spokesman for Bank of America, Rick Simon, said that made addressing this year's situation a little awkward but it would still observe its usual holiday policy. 

"Bank of America's practice in recent years [is to hold off on] foreclosure sales or evictions from late December through New Year's Day on loans held in our investment portfolio or that are owned by investors who give the bank delegated authority," he said.  A spokesman for Chase Mortgage, a division of J.P. Morgan Chase, said its robo-signing-connected moratorium makes an additional holiday freeze moot; it will still be several weeks before it starts to evict borrowers again.  Wells Fargo's holiday freeze will run the same two week period as Fannie's and Freddie's and will, like Bank of America's, include all loans it holds in its portfolio. For the other loans it services, it will follow guidelines from investors and from the states where the properties are located.  With the number of bank repossessions amounting to around 100,000 a month recently, the temporary reprieve could affect tens of thousands of borrowers in default.

Bernanke - 4 or 5 Years to Recovery

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in a "60 Minutes" interview yesterday, "At the rate we're going, it could be four, five years before we are back to a more normal unemployment rate."  Bernanke says long-term inflation fears are "way overstated," and the Fed is not just "printing money." Plus, while critics are pointing out QE2's risks left and right, they are not weighing the risks of "not acting," Bernanke said.  Responding to a question about the possibility of additional quantitative easing, Bernanke said: "Oh, it's certainly possible. And again, it depends on the efficacy of the program. It depends on inflation. And finally it depends on how the economy looks." He added that it "doesn't seem likely" that there will be a double-dip recession. 

Bernanke also said he's "100%" confident in the Fed's ability to control long-term inflation. "We could raise interest rates in 15 minutes if we have to," he said. "That time is not now."  "We don't want to take actions this year that will affect this year's spending and this year's taxes in a way that will hurt the recovery. That's important," Bernanke said. "But that doesn't stop us from thinking now about the long-term structural budget deficit."  He also called the tax code "inefficient."  "By closing loopholes and lowering rates, you could increase the efficiency of the tax code and create more incentives for people to invest," he said.

HAMP Dead?

“It’s safe to say that HAMP isn’t meeting its goal of preventing foreclosures,” Representative Maxine Waters  said at a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing after the Treasury provided a preview of a report by the U.S. Treasury Department.  According to the report, homeowners are dropping out of the Obama administration’s foreclosure prevention program at a faster rate than they are joining it.  Bankers, housing regulators and members of Congress agreed on this much in the week's second congressional hearing on foreclosure problems: The system needs fixing.  Borrowers aided by the Home Affordable Modification Program grew to nearly 520,000 in October, up 23,750 from a month earlier, the Treasury said in its monthly report. The increase was less than five percent. A total of 36,300 borrowers have dropped out of the plan for failing to make their payments, an increase of 24 percent from a month earlier. 

The Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development issue monthly progress reports on HAMP, a $50 billion program authorized by Congress in 2009. The program was targeted to reach more than 3 million homeowners by paying mortgage servicers $1,000 to rewrite loan terms and $1,000 annually as long as the borrower participates, up to three years.  The program has been faulted by lawmakers and watchdogs including Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, for the high number of recipients who default on mortgages after getting the government aid.  Banks seized more than 93,000 homes in October, according to Irvine, California-based data seller RealtyTrac Inc.

There were nearly 3.3 million foreclosure starts from September 2009 through September 2010, according to LPS Applied Analytics in Jacksonville, Florida.  Mortgage servicers say they are trying to balance the needs of borrowers and the demands of investors who own their loans.  “We’ve reached a crossroad between modification efforts now and the reality of foreclosure. Despite our best efforts and numerous programs, for some customers foreclosure will be unavoidable,” said Rebecca Mairone, default servicing executive for Bank of America Corp. home loans, at today’s House hearing.